Before there were graphics, there was text: and fake dead people too

I’m still mulling Colleen’s post, Fake Dead People, where she writes about using non-player characters in games as mere ‘mouthpieces’ for architecture:

Turning people of the past into mere mouthpieces for their architecture diminishes the rich potential of reconstructions to impart information about complex lifeways. Using programmable objects such as the previously mentioned mano and metate allows avatars to act as their own guides to the past, populating the re-created ancient landscape with avatars of people interested in the past, interacting with artifacts and taking on roles suggested by these artifacts. This is simple for archaeologists who are accustomed to telling stories through objects and adds another level of interactivity to the virtual reconstruction.

She goes on to say,

[…]fundamentally we are better off wearing Caesar’s crown for ourselves rather than asking a poor simulacrum about the weather in the Republic.  Thinking of Caesar as a non-player character in history is a stretch by any means.  But game developers (and digital archaeologists) will probably not stop populating virtual worlds with fake people.  These NPCs are nonhuman manifestations of a network of agents (polygons, “modern” humans, fiber-optics, and the dead person herself) and the relationships between these agents and as a result should be studied as such.  But does this understanding of an NPC as a network make it ethical to take such liberties with the visages of the dead?

I like the phrase ‘network of agents’, but I wonder about the classification of what agents are. My agent models, though populated with simple & stupid autonomous creatures, are still autonomous… (although I like the idea of looking at the network of connections; that’s a major theme in my research) but that’s a side thought. What really prompted this post is this article from the Brass Lantern by Stephen Granade

One way to categorize non-player characters is by whether or not they act separately from the player. Many NPCs are reactive, living only to respond to player actions (assuming they respond at all). They are there to make the setting more real, provide information, or impede the player’s progress. They’re the cafe patron who doesn’t look up from her paper, or the mysterious man in the tweed jacket who talks of destiny and evil forces arrayed against you, or the guard who won’t let you into the building until you show her the proper keycard.

Autonomous NPCs are both harder to get right and more rewarding when done well. They don’t necessarily wait for the player to do something or stay in one place. They wander around and do their own thing, perhaps making unwanted comments or picking up things you really need.

Autonomous NPCs can be further subdivided based on how they’re implemented. Some NPCs are scripted: The NPC does exactly what the author codes. Others are freeform: They have a collection of rules that define their behavior, and the author winds them up and lets them go.

So I guess where I’m going with this thought: archaeological NPCs, whether appearing in text or in graphics, need to be of the autonomous kind, the kind that move with the emergent behaviour found in agent-based models. Then we’d have some real virtual reality in archaeology!

That’s a tall order. My first stab wasn’t all that successful, but it’s something to aim for.

Excavating Second Life

When I was a grad student, I remember coming to the common room to find a friend of mine, tearing out his hair. Apparently, someone in his native Norway had just published a substantial article on the exact subject of his MA thesis, meaning he had to change his direction.

I was reminded of him when I opened my in-box this morning to discover that somebody has beaten me to the punch re the archaeology of second life. This is, actually, a good thing. For one, it shows that I’m not out to lunch with this project, and two, that archaeological journals (or at least, the Journal of Material Culture) will publish such work.

So congratulations to Rodney Harrison of the Open University, for his paper:

Excavating Second Life

Cyber-Archaeologies, Heritage and Virtual Communities

Rodney Harrison The Open University, UK,

While the anthropology of online communities has emerged as a significant area of research, there has been little discussion of the possibilities of the archaeology of virtual settlements, defined here as interactive synthetic environments in which users are sensually immersed and which respond to user input. Bartle (in Designing Virtual Worlds, 2003: 1) has described such virtual settlements as `places where the imaginary meets the real’. In this sense, an examination of the role of heritage in virtual settlements has the potential to shed light on the role of heritage in both `real’ and `imagined’ communities more generally. This article develops the concept of `cyberarchaeology’ (originally devised by Jones in his 1997 article, `Virtual Communities’) to study the virtual material culture of the settlement Second Life, and in particular, its explicit programme of heritage conservation. A survey of heritage places in Second Life suggests that the functions of heritage in virtual settlements may be far more limited than in the actual world, functioning primarily as a structure of governance and control through the establishment of the rationale for (virtual) land ownership and the production of a sense of community through memorials which produce a sense of `rootedness’ and materialize social memory. Such functions of heritage are consistent with recent discussion of the role of heritage in western societies. Nonetheless, this study of heritage and cyber-archaeology provides insights into the ways in which the notions of heritage are transforming in the early 21st century in connection with the proliferation of virtual environments, and the challenge this provides to contemporary society.

Key Words: community • cyber-archaeology • heritage • Second Life • virtual settlements

I look forward to reading this!

Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age

If you’re going to be anywhere near Trondheim in the next while, you might want to take in ‘Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age‘. If you go, steal all the handouts & powerpoints you can, and send them to me…

I’ve had the pleasure of correspondence with some of the presenters, so I know it’ll be a stimulating programme; I note that Caesar IV is under discussion too – I play way too much of that game… I have mused elsewhere on its possibilities as a counterfactual approach to Roman economics. Ah to be in Trondheim in February…


FRIDAY 20th – SATURDAY 21st of February at Campus Dragvoll, Trondheim, Norway


Auditorium DL33 (’Låven’)

10-10.20 Welcome address and introduction by Dean Kathrine Skretting and Staffan Wahlgren

Session 1: Chair: Marek Kretschmer

10.20-11.00 Martin Dinter, (King’s College London, Classics): ‘Ludological Approaches to Virtual Gaming’

11.00-11.40 Frank Furtwängler, (Universität Konstanz, Media): ‘”God of War” and the Mythology of New Media’

11.40-12.00 Coffee break

12.00-12.40 Stephen Kidd, (New York University, Classics): ‘Herodotus and the New Historiography of Virtual Gaming’

12.40-13.20 Dunstan Lowe, (Reading University, Classics): ‘Always Already Ancient. Ruins in the Virtual World’

13.40-14.20 Lunch

Session 2: Chair: Jan Frode Hatlen

14.20-15.30 Richard Beacham, (King’s College London, School of Theatre Studies) and Hugh Denard, (King’s College London, Computing in the Humanities): ‘Observations on Staging the Ludi Virtuales’

15.30-16.10 Thea Selliaas Thorsen, (NTNU, Classics): ‘Virtually There? Women in Ovid, Tatian and the 3D Theatre of Pompey’

16.10-16.30 Coffee break

16.30-17.10 Gian Paolo Castelli, (Rome, Classics): ‘The Emperor’s Seal. On Producing a Roman Computer Game’

17.10-17.50 Adam Lindhagen, (University of Lund, Archaeology): ‘Constructing and Governing a Province – between Fact and Fiction in Caesar IV’

20.00 Dinner


Auditorium D3

Session 3: Chair: Thea Selliaas Thorsen

10.00-10.40 Andrew Gardner, (University College London, Archaeology): ‘Entertainment and Empire. A Critical Engagement with Roman Themed Strategy Games’

10.40-11.20 Leif Inge Petersen, (NTNU, History): ‘Siege Warfare in Computer Games. Problems and Possibilities’

11.20-11.40 Coffee break

11.40-12.20 Kristine Ask, (NTNU, Technological Studies): ‘Technology in Games and Games of Technology’

12.20-13.00 Jan Frode Hatlen, (NTNU, History): ‘Students of Rome: Total War. A Socio-Educational Approach’

13.00-14.00 Lunch

Session 4: Chair: Staffan Wahlgren

14.00-15.00 Daniel Jung, (University of Bergen, Computing in the Humanities) and Barbara McManus, (The College of New Rochelle, NY, Classics): ‘Latina Ludens. Educational Gaming in VRoma’

15.00-15.40 Andrew Reinhard, (Bolchazy-Carducci, eLearning, USA): ‘eLearning Latin’

15.40 ConcLVSIOns (Thea Sellias Thorsen)

17.00 Guided Tour of the City Centre

Some Agent Reading

Came across a review of two archaeological books, in the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulations. The journal, by the way, should be required reading for anyone interested in the power of agent modeling for exploring human societies, whether in the past, present or future. Anywhoo, the two books under review are:

Socialising Complexity: Approaches to Power and Interaction in Archaeological Discourse

Kohring, Sheila, Wynne-Jones, Stephanie (Eds.)
Oxbow Books Ltd: Oxford, UK, 2007
ISBN 1842172948 (pb)

The Model-Based Archaeology of Socionatural Systems

Kohler, Timothy A., and van der Leeuw, Sander E. (Eds.)
SAR Press: Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2007
ISBN 9781930618879 (pb)

While the reviewer is generally in favour of the approaches and models outlined in these volumes, one fragment of the review jumped out at me:

There seems to be an uncritical assumption that the more detail that is included, the better the model. There is little evidence that the authors are familiar with the attempts of the ABSS community to clarify such matters as validation, sensitivity analysis and parameter space exploration, and the critical task of choosing an appropriate level of abstraction (or granularity) for a model.

Now, that was the only really negative comment, but it is one that applies to archaeological modeling in general. I mention it here, because my own models have been criticized for not having enough detail. That is however the point. My models tend to be more abstract than the average archaeological simulation, and so I agree with the reviewer: more detail is not necessarily better. In fact, more detail can often paralyze the analysis.

Model building is about simplification, about understanding from the gaps as much as from the content.

Some other things that should be on the reading list:

Josh Epstein on why we build models:

This lecture treats some enduring misconceptions about modeling. One of these is that the goal is always prediction. The lecture distinguishes between explanation and prediction as modeling goals, and offers sixteen reasons other than prediction to build a model. It also challenges the common assumption that scientific theories arise from and ‘summarize’ data, when often, theories precede and guide data collection; without theory, in other words, it is not clear what data to collect. Among other things, it also argues that the modeling enterprise enforces habits of mind essential to freedom. It is based on the author’s 2008 Bastille Day keynote address to the Second World Congress on Social Simulation, George Mason University, and earlier addresses at the Institute of Medicine, the University of Michigan, and the Santa Fe Institute.

A website:

And a pair of books:

Non Linear Models In Archaeology and Anthropology

Generative Social Science

From Spiegel Online (Thanks Henry!)

Program Allows Virtual Tour of Ancient Roman Cologne

A team of archaeologists, scientists and software programmers has created a 3D virtual model of the city of Cologne as it was 2,000 years ago. Though not yet online, the software allows visitors to fly through the city in its Roman glory.

A new computer program will allow the curious to see Cologne, Germany’s fourth-largest city, as it was almost 2,000 years ago, when it was a major northern outpost of the Roman Empire.

“Now, for the first time, people will be able to visualize what an amazing city Cologne already was in antiquity,” said Hansgerd Hellenkemper, the director of the city’s Romano-Germanic Museum.

The museum’s website with the models are here; no english (yet).

Neogeography, Gaming and Second Life

Archaeologists, take note of work coming out of CASA at UCL in the UK:

[two issues are addressed:] firstly that spatial data is still inherently difficult to share and visualise for the non-GIS trained academic or professional and secondly that a geographic data social network has the potential to dramatically open up data sources for both the public and professional geographer. With our applications of GMap Creator, and MapTube to name but two, we detail ways to intelligently visualise and share spatial data. This paper concludes with detailing usage and outreach as well as an insight into how such tools are already providing a significant impact to the outreach of geographic information.”

Now, this is work that has obvious archaeological implications.

On another note, the same group is implementing ABM in Second Life. I particularly like the screen-grab of an escaped agent wandering off into the Metaverse. There’s something profoundly disturbing about that…

Digital Media and Learning Competition: a digital archaeology moment?

The following appeared on my ‘discussion’ page this morning:

We would like you and your readers to consider applying for and to help get out the word about our second (2008 HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition. It’s a $2 Million Competition. Focus: Participatory Learning
Application Deadline: October 15, 2008
Full information at:
Awards will be made in two categories:

Innovation in Participatory Learning Awards support large-scale digital learning projects

Young Innovator Awards are targeted at 18-25 year olds

Full information at:

I would be interested in putting in an application for myself, but the thought occurs: there are a lot of digital media/archaeology types out there, with great ideas and motivation, but not so much funding perhaps. Why don’t we put together a collaborative proposal?

EJA Review Piece, ‘Second Lives: Online World for Archaeological Teaching and Research’

A small review piece of mine, on Second Life & Archaeology, is now available from the latest issue of the European Journal of Archaeology:

Special Reviews Section: Second lives: online worlds for archaeological teaching and research: Linden Labs, Second Life,
European Journal of Archaeology 2007 10: 77-79. [PDF]

The Space Between: The Geography of Social Networks in the Tiber Valley

The following is somewhere in the publication chain, and has been there since about 2004. Reference:

(in press) ‘The Space Between: Places and Connections in the Tiber Valley’ in Coarelli, F. and Patterson, H. (eds) Mercator Placidissimus: the Tiber Valley in Antiquity. New research in the upper and middle river valley. (Proceedings of the Conference held at the British School at Rome, 27-28 Feb. 2004). Rome. British School at Rome – Edizioni QVASAR.

The Space Between:

The Geography of Social Networks in the Tiber Valley

In a Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson, a man with a crumpled map wants to get from point B to point A. The farmer responds, ‘Beats me, sonny. Most people want to go the other way’. The joke underscores the fact that most people have a mental diagram of how places interconnect. That mental diagram is laid out as a list and it depends on the sequence of way-points along the way, a series of connections from place to place. It is more like the London Tube map than the OS or IGM maps.

In the Roman world, space was understood as an itinerary, as a sequence of what comes next[1]. In the Tiber Valley Project[2], we use a GIS to understand the spatial relationships between sites and places, with a very Euclidian understanding of space as a plane viewed from on high. How we represent space, and how the Romans understood space, are completely at odds with one another, and so we miss important elements of the experience of living in the Tiber Valley. When viewed from on high, it is too easy to put too much emphasis on ‘South-Etruria’, ‘Sabina’, ‘left bank’, ‘right bank’ and the ‘Tiber as a Barrier’, as mental categories, almost in isolation from one another. Recent work by Horden and Purcell puts the emphasis on understanding the ancient Mediterranean as a series of interconnected micro-regions[3]. They argue that we must understand the connections to understand ancient life. Yet, we use the GIS simply to represent locations, rather than to understand what might be called a ‘geography of relations’. We neglect that places were understood in the past to have particular relationships with other places, and the way we use GIS reinforces this neglect[4].

What happens if, informed by a network perspective, we look at the geography of the Tiber Valley from a point of view that puts the emphasis on those interconnections? The ‘science of networks’ has developed rapidly over the last few years[5], and it is expressly concerned with understanding the processes that occur on the network structures we find. That is, if we have put dots on the map, the science of networks might be able to tell us something of what happened in the space between those dots and what those dots represent. Batty makes the important point that what might appear to be random in Euclidean space (our dots on the map), can in fact be rather ordered in terms of networks[6]. This paper concentrates first on the problem of representing these connections, and then turns to possible avenues to explore their meaning. It aims to demonstrate the potential power of a network science point of view for understanding the Roman world.

Representing space

In this volume, there are many maps of the middle Tiber Valley. North is always at the top of the map. There is no real reason why we do this, other than the dictates of convention. Since that is how we learn to read maps, that is why we do it. But it does have an effect on how we interpret the information displayed on the map. Rome is always at the bottom of these maps. Even if we did not know a single thing about the City of Rome, there is an implicit assumption, by displaying the map in this way, that everything and everyone must make its way to Rome.

There is empirical evidence to suggest that how we display information on a map affects how we interpret it[7]. At conferences or in the lecture hall, even the size of the screen has an effect on how we interpret the interrelatedness of the information displayed, especially when we are displaying point-data. Researchers have discovered that, when viewing point-data displayed on a screen (what the viewers implicitly recognize as a map), people are more inclined to associate points together in the vertical dimension, rather than in the horizontal.[8] That is, up-down relationships are more likely to be seen in the patterning, rather than left-right. Viewers tend to regard points in the up-down dimension as being more alike, more similar, even when the distance between them is exactly the same as for the horizontal points.

Is the Tiber a barrier or a bridge? When we display the information in our GIS as convention would dictate, we naturally focus on north-south relationships, rather than east-west. We should rethink that. Set your GIS to display maps with west at the top, and see what else becomes apparent. Fig. 1 represents the distribution of stamped bricks (from the British School at Rome collection) in South Etruria. There is seemingly no pattern to this distribution, at least by eye. But when the same information is displayed as in fig. 2, with a 90° rotation, suddenly east-west and trans-Tiber connections jump to the fore (compare with fig. 6 below).

If how we display and represent space affects how we interpret the importance of relationships between places, should we expect the Roman conception of space to have had any different effect? We can approach this problem of understanding the connections between places from another angle, this time using our best guide to the Roman understanding of how places are connected: the Antonine Itineraries. In the Itineraries, the sequence of towns to visit to get from one part of the empire to any other part is listed. Instead of looking at these itineraries plotted on a map, we can follow the lead of Henry Beck, the inventor of the Tube Map, and represent the Itineraries as a network diagram, where the points are the towns, connected to the next town in the itinerary. This network diagram is a social network diagram, because it indicates something of the social, commercial, and cultural interactions between individual towns (for why else would one want to get from town A to town B?).

Geography and social network analysis

Some urban geographers now argue for an understanding of cities and settlement structures in terms of social relationships and their intensity where different social networks intersect[9]. Social life works across various networks, and cities are the foci of multiple overlapping social networks (think of the Third-World immigrants in modern Rome who peddle trinkets to North American tourists. Here in one city are two worlds that overlap, occasionally touch, but are entirely foreign to one another). Networks extend beyond the city, linking different cities together in different ways, but they also incorporate every point in between along the continuum of settlement types from humble rural farmsteads upwards. In this view, cities themselves are nodes of social relations in time and space. At any given time a city will be a node in any number of different networks of power and influence[10].

Networks do not exist independently of the people within them, and it is not enough that mere interconnections should exist. Individuals matter. Individuals must make something of these interconnections, for the networks to work[11]. This idea can be seen to underlie Laurence’s recent discussion of the transformation of Britain into a Roman province[12]. He explicitly considers the Itineraries as evidence for the purposeful reconfiguration of existing networks, over which people, goods, and capital flowed, into a distinctly Roman pattern.

An example from Italy concerns the creation of fora (market-centres) and the process of establishing control in newly centuriated land, instances where individual élite intervene in the landscape. This process represents the conscious decision to warp and reconfigure local network patterns[13]. This process is visible at Forum Novum, a settlement established in the 2nd century BC, upstream from Rome along the Aia tributary of the Tiber, in the Sabina region. A town centre was built, as well as a market for the surrounding farms. There was much ostentatious display and the typical self-aggrandizement of the local elite who paid for the development, including an aqueduct and an amphitheatre for games[14]. Yet, it never grew into a town as such, and there was little in the way of housing. Even today its modern successor, Vescovio, is not much more than a church and a restaurant. After the initial capitalization on the intersecting trade and farming networks in the river valley where Forum Novum is situated brought the settlement into being, those networks were evidently not sufficient to transform it from a minor centre. This is because of its end-point positioning in relationship to other settlements in the networks of trade and communications in the Tiber Valley, more on which below.

A network approach to cities and settlements can be more than metaphorical. Social network analysis[15], which normally considers the ‘vertices’ or ‘nodes’ in a network to be individual persons, can be adapted for our purposes to look for connections within and across cities and space. This is why we reconsidered the Itineraries as a type of social network. Then we can ask, what does position here vis-à-vis other ‘nodes’ imply for the dynamics of interaction and the overall global structure? When we consider the connections between towns today from that perspective, we find occasional long distance links. These are the motorways and so on which allow travel from one city to another without stopping in the little towns in between. These long distance links are important, because they let information travel across the network in a much quicker route than would otherwise be possible. They turn the network into what is known in network science as a ‘small-world’[16]. A small world is simply one in which, locally, most ‘nodes’ (be they people or cities) are tightly linked to neighbouring nodes, but a few long-distance connections have the global effect of shortening the average number of steps it takes to get from one node to any other node chosen at random, as in fig. 3[17]. That is to say, global characteristics of the network emerge from local interactions. When the lights went out in North America, London, and Italy in the summer of 2003, this was because the electricity grid has similar long distance connections that allowed errors to travel quickly and accumulate. In an economic network, the same ‘small-world’ principal allows capital to accumulate and be used effectively. In a social network, it allows certain people to become indispensable because they effectively can control where the information goes. They can control who knows what.

The Itineraries do not have any of these long-distance connections (fig. 4). The Roman world was not ‘small’ in the sense described above. There are some sea-connections in the Itineraries, but not enough to actually affect the way information travels through such a network. This means that, from a network analysis point of view, the interconnections between towns in the Empire are exceedingly fragile. Only a few ‘links’ would have to be broken, for the whole network to appear fragmented. Throughout human history, the majority of people never travelled much further than a handful of miles from their place of birth. Geographic knowledge of distance places therefore had to be provided through some other agency. On this evidence, to the Roman who wanted to travel some distance using these Itineraries, it would not take much bad news to persuade him that a particular route was blocked.

Yet appearances can be deceiving

When we actually examine the road network (fig. 5, a detail of the Roman roads around Rome), it is clear that there are many alternative routes, many different ways to get from point A to point B. This discrepancy is the crux of the matter. The global picture of how places interact available to a Roman in the form of the itineraries provides only for a limited number of ways to get from A to B, while the local picture, known to the people who live in an area, suggest multiple pathways.

Batty argues that in transportation systems, the adding of new layers to existing systems – such as canals to road networks, rail to canal networks – has the effect of creating small-world conditions[18]. In this sense, the cursus publicus as a rapid specialized communications system for the Emperor[19], overlaid on the existing transport system, may have created small-world conditions for the Emperor’s intelligence network, with all the attendant implications for wealth and knowledge condensation[20].

Local routes and pathways

To understand local multiple pathways, and their implications for how geography was understood, the gravity settlement model developed by Rihll and Wilson[21] was used to study the interconnections between sites using stamped brick, identified during the South Etruria Survey, in the Tiber Valley. Rihll and Wilson’s process works on modelling the amount of interaction between places, based on the assumption that places closer together will be more likely to interact, than places further apart. This mathematical model is not built on any other geographic information, other than the relative positioning of each site, based on its x and y coordinates. While a multitude of sites used brick, comparatively few used stamped bricks. Not every brick was stamped, of course, but the presence of a stamped brick probably indicates a larger shipment of brick. Patterns of supply can reflect the social ties of the builders, so the distribution of different stamp types can be used as an indicator of the degree to which the owners/builders of a site were engaged in the games of competitive display with each other, both in the countryside and the Metropolis[22].

What was interesting about this model applied to the Tiber Valley was the way it suggested interactions changed over time (fig. 6, the output from this model). To the naked eye, the distribution of sites using stamped brick does not appear appreciably different from one period to the next. Yet, to the model, subtle differences in positioning create different network patterns of interaction. At some periods, strong trans-Tiber connections are suggested amongst sites using stamped brick; other times, more north-and-south connections; sometimes certain main roads are implied, such as the via Cassia; other times, the use of the Tiber is implied as the route for these interactions. It is interesting to note how the east-west connections suggested by this model recall the same connections apparent to the eye when we turned the map in fig. 1 ninety degrees. These are as much social interactions as geographical interactions, and so suggest a much more complicated geography than one in which every product uniformly makes its way to the bottom of our map, to Rome.

These interactions also are implied in the archaeometry of stamped bricks. Seventy-five stamped bricks from the Tiber valley were tested using X-ray fluorescence[23]. The results were then correlated with the information on the stamps. Contrary to what we would expect it seems that not all bricks carrying the same stamp type were made from the same clays. There are also cases where multiple land-owners exploited the same clay sources. Some of the tested bricks were transported up the valley from where they were made; others were transported down stream; still others from one side of the valley to the other. This seemingly goes against our functionalist, cost-of-transport view of the economy, but it does point to a somewhat neglected side of the consumer city model: the social relationships that mediated trade[24].

The local and the global

Assume for a moment that all trade flows downstream, and like the Roman informed by the Antonine Itinerary we recognize only one route from point A to point B. It is here, in the discrepancy between local and global knowledge of geography, that an individual or community can make money and impact the economy. In trade, it is not the cost that matters so much as the profit that can be made. So for the well-connected individual (as in fig. 7) it should be easy to work out the discrepancy between the local and the global – between what she knows, and what her buyers know. It is ‘she’ because the single most important individual in the social network of the brick industry, the individual who sat in the very centre, was Domitia Lucilla, mother of Marcus Aurelius[25]. Over 200 people can be connected to her in only a few steps, making the industry a small-world, and putting her in a position to control the flow of information in the trade. She would have known, as a function of her position in the network, about clay sources and building contracts, about the amount of profit that could be made for a given distance of trade, whether upstream, downstream, overland, or overseas. To be able to call on clients, to be able to use the resources of skilled slaves, to have the right connections, allowed Domitia Lucilla and other well-connected individuals to get the material to where it was wanted with a minimum of fuss.

However, because of the way geographic knowledge was formulated in the Roman world, the perception of cost-of-transport could well have been out of kilter with the reality. The person buying would not necessarily have known the routes, the difficulties, except in the broadest possible terms. That meant that the buyer would find a certain cost level to be acceptable, even when that cost was in reality much higher than circumstances should have actually dictated. Today it would be similar to the way that, if we are not plumbers, we are at the mercy of the “cow-boy” who tells us the work is going to take longer and cost more than in truth it does. Most emperors were not, almost by definition, stupid men. Why do they invest so much in the brick trade? It may be that a significant factor is the discrepancy between the local and the global which makes the otherwise humble building trade economically valuable (remembering that brick making was an adjunct to agriculture), and allows it to function in the way that is visible archaeometrically. This is in line with what people such as Janet DeLaine have suggested concerning ideologies of construction, and the use of so-called ‘exotic’ materials[26]. ‘Exotic’ was in the eye of the beholder, and could even apply to something as humble as brick, if it seemed that it was difficult to obtain. That difficulty depended on how one perceived space, and the interconnections between places.


In the Tiber Valley, the relationships between places change over time, and they are not in the patterns we expect. As Batty argued[27], we need to move from representing locations, to representing relationships. If merely we study the ‘dots on the map’, we miss important facets of the way the social and economic geography of the Roman world worked. ‘Dots on the map’ represents a local understanding of space. To get to the global, as preserved for us in works such as the Antonine Itineraries, we need to explore the space between the two levels. Network science offers us a formal methodology for exploring the space between the local and the global. Networks are not static, nor are they deterministic. They evolve, for they change in response to the decisions people make, but they also influence those decisions. They can even make brick exotic.


In displaying archaeological information as points on a map, we lose elements of the social and economic geography of the region we are studying. This paper suggests a methodology for exploring the space between our ‘dots-on-the-map’, based on the rapidly developing ‘science of networks’. It takes as a case study the distribution of sites using stamped brick in the Tiber Valley. It suggests that contradictions between local and global understandings of spatial relationships were exploitable economic opportunities.

Visualizzando i dati archeologici come punti su una mappa, perdiamo elementi della geografia socio-economica dell’area che stiamo studiando. Questo contributo suggerisce una metodologia per esplorare lo spazio compreso tra i “puntini”, basata sui costanti sviluppi della “scienza delle relazioni”. Come esempio, si è scelto la distribuzione dei bolli laterizi nella valle del Tevere. Tale esempio suggerisce che le contraddizioni tra le percezioni locali e globali delle relazioni spaziali potevano essere sfruttate a livello economico.


Barabàsi 2002: A.L. Barabàsi, Linked: The New Science of Networks, Cambridge 2002.

Batty 2003: M. Batty, Network Geography: Relations, Interactions, Scaling and Spatial Processes in GIS [Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis Working Paper #63, at]. To be published in D. Unwin (ed.), Re-Presenting GIS, Chichester 2003.

Borgatti et al. 1996: S.P. Borgatti – M.G. Everett – L.C. Freeman, UCINET IV Version 1.64 [Natick, MA, Analytic Technologies URL:], 1996.

Borgatti 2002: S.P. Borgatti, Keyplayer v.1.1 [Natick, MA, Analytic Technologies URL:] 2002.

Bouchaud 2000: J.P. Bouchaud – M. Mézard, Wealth Condensation in a Simple Model of Economy, in Physica CCLXXXII, 2000, p. 536.

Brodersen 2001: K. Brodersen, The Presentation of Geographical Knowledge for Travel and Transport in the Roman World: Itineraria non tantum adnotata sed etiam picta, in C. Adams and R. Laurence (eds), Travel and Geography in the Roman Empire, London 2001, p. ff.

Buchanan 2002: M. Buchanan, Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks, New York 2002.

Cuntz 1929: O. Cuntz, Itineraria Romana. Vol.1, Itineraria Antonini Augusti et Burdigalense Stuttgart 19902.

De Laine 2002a: J. De Laine, The Temple of Hadrian at Cyzicus and Roman Attitudes to Exceptional Construction, in PBSR LXX, 2002, p. 205 ff.

De Laine 2002b: J. De Laine, Building Activity in Ostia in the Second Century AD, in C. Bruun – A. Gallina Zevi (eds.), Ostia e Protus nelle loro relazioni con Roma, in AIRF XXVII, 2002, p. 41 ff.

Gaffney et al. 2001: V. Gaffney – H. Patterson – P. Roberts, Forum Novum-Vescovio: Studying Urbanism in the Tiber Valley, in JRA XIV, 2001, p. 59 ff.

Graham 2002: S. Graham, ‘Ex Figlinis’: The Complex Dynamics of the Roman Brick Industry in the Tiber Valley during the 1st to 3rd Centuries AD, PhD thesis, School of Human and Environmental Sciences, University of Reading 2002.

Graham (forthcoming): S. Graham, Who’s in Charge? Studying Social Networks in the Roman Brick Industry in Central Italy, in C. Mattusch – A. Donohue (eds.), Acta of the XVIth International Congress of Classical Archaeology (forthcoming).

Graham (forthcoming): S. Graham, Of Lumberjacks and Brick Stamps: Working with the Tiber as Infrastructure, in A. MacMahon – J. Price, Roman Urban Living (forthcoming).

Helen 1975: T. Helen, Organization of Roman Brick Production in the First and Second Centuries AD. An Interpretation of Roman Brick Stamps, Helsinki 1975.

Horden-Purcell 2000: P. Horden – N. Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History, Oxford 2000.

Kolb 2001: A. Kolb, Transport and Communication in the Roman State, The Cursus Publicus, in C. Adams – R. Laurence (eds.), Travel and Geography in the Roman Empire, London 2001, p. ff.

Laurence 2001a: R. Laurence, The Creation of Geography: An Interpretation of Roman Britain, in C. Adams – R. Laurence (eds.), Travel and Geography in the Roman Empire, London 2001.

Laurence 2001b: R. Laurence, Roman Italy’s Urban Revolution, in E. Lo Cascio – A.S. Marino (eds.), Modalità insediative e strutture agrarie nell’Italia meridionale in età romana, Bari 2001, p. ff.

Massey et al. 1999: D. Massey – J. Allen – S. Pile (eds.), City Worlds: Understanding Cities 1, London 1999.

Montello et al. 2003: D. Montello – S.I. Fabrikant – M. Ruocco – R. Middleton, Testing the First Law of Cognitive Geography on Point-Display Spatializations, in W. Kuhn – M.F. Worboys – S. Timpf (eds.), COSIT 2003, LNCS 2825, 2003.

PattersonMillett 1988: H. Patterson – M. Millett, The Tiber Valley Project, in PBSR LXVI, 1988, p. 1 ff.

Patterson 2004: H. Patterson, Bridging the Tiber: Approaches to Regional Archaeology in the Middle Tiber Valley, London 2004.

Rihll-Wilson 1991: T.E. Rihll – A.G. Wilson, Modelling settlement structures in ancient Greece : new approaches to the polis, in J. Rich – A. Wallace Hadrill (eds.), City and country in the ancient world, London 1991, p. ff.

Setälä 1977: P. Setälä, Private Domini in Roman Brick Stamps of the Empire: A Historical and Prosopographical Study of Landowners in the District of Rome, Helsinki 1977.

Steinby 1974: E.M. Steinby, La cronologia delle “figlinae” doliari urbane dalla fine dell’età repubblicana fino all’inizio dell III secolo, in BullCom LXXXIV, 1974, p. 7 ff.

Wallace Hadrill 1991: A. Wallace Hadrill, Elites and trade in the Roman town, in J. Rich – A. Wallace Hadrill (eds.), City and country in the ancient world, London 1991, p. ff.

Wasserman-Faust 1994: S. Wasserman – K. Faust, Social Network Analysis: Methods and Applications, Cambridge 1994.

Watts 1999: D.J. Watts, Kevin Bacon, the Small-World, and Why It All Matters, in Santa Fe Institute Bulletin [at http: //], 1999.

Watts 2003: D.J. Watts, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, London 2003.

Watts-Strogatz 1998: D.J. Watts – S.H. Strogatz, Collective dynamics of ‘small-world’ networks, in Nature CCCXCIII, 1998, p. 440 ff.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Mark Wakefield for the computer modeling. Thanks also to Thea Politis, and Rick Valin for comments, and to the BSR for access to the South Etruria Collection of stamped bricks. Errors remain my own. The original research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Overseas Research Studentship Scheme administered by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the UK.

[1] Brodersen 2001.

[2] Patterson-Millett 1998; Patterson 2004.

[3] Horden-Purcell 2000.

[4] Cf. Batty 2003, pp. 2-3 on the difference between ‘Geographic Information Systems’ and ‘Geographic Information Science’.

[5] Barabasi 2002; Watts 2003 for recent syntheses of the topic.

[6] Batty 2003, p. 5.

[7] Montello et al. 2003, pp. 316-331.

[8] Montello et al. 2003, p. 317.

[9] Massey et al. 1999, p. vii.

[10] Massey et al. 1999, pp. 42-49, 100-136.

[11] Massey et al. 1999, pp. 161-163.

[12] Laurence 2001a.

[13] Cf. Laurence 2001b, p. 596, 598 on the space-economy of Roman Italy.

[14] Gaffney et al. 2001.

[15] For the basics of which, see Wasserman-Faust 1994.

[16] The most accessible discussion of the characteristics of a ‘small-world’ is Watts 2003, pp. 69-100. Cf. also Watts-Strogatz 1998.

[17] Watts 1999.

[18] Batty 2003, pp. 18-20.

[19] Cf. Kolb 2001.

[20] Bouchaud-Mézard 2000, p. 536, and Buchanan 2002, pp. 195-196.

[21] Rihll-Wilson 1991.

[22] Graham 2002, pp. 100-7; Graham forthcoming on using the Tiber as infrastructure; cf. De Laine 2002.

[23] Graham 2002, pp. 52-73.

[24] Wallace Hadrill 1991

[25] Cf. Graham forthcoming on controlling the brick industry.

[26] De Laine 2002

[27] Batty 2003

Archaeology in, and archaeology of, Second Life

Right now, it’s 6.17 am, EST, which makes it about 11.17 am Dublin time, and 3.17 am Second Life time. No doubt, there’s a wild party going on somewhere in Second Life, but here at the RWU virtual excavation prototype, all is quiet.

I’m waiting to give my presentation to the folks at WAC6 in Dublin, but last I heard, there were some technical issues on their end – so a good thing I made a video of the presentation!

Youtube, in the end, could not handle my video because they have an upper limit of 10 minutes – my talk clocks in at 13. Google video doesn’t have a length restriction, so I went with them (but seeing as how they own Youtube anyway, I wonder why the distinction). It took forever for the thing to upload – I had to leave the computer running over night. I uploaded as an AVI file – Camtasia makes excellent SWF files, but for reasons unknown to me, it truncated my video – after nearly two hours of rendering – to 4 minutes and 32 seconds! Anyway, the quality is a little blurry, but I never said I was Fellini…

The argument of the talk, in brief: SL for archaeology: a place to ‘do’ archaeology’, a place for archaeological VR, and a place for archaeological teaching and outreach.

  • SL as a place to ‘do’ archaeology: Virtual worlds have always existed – from the caves of Cro-Magnon, to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, to Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, to Disneyland, SL just the latest in a long line of virtual worlds. Indeed, since SL is a world of imagination and flights of fancy, it has more in common with the virtual worlds of the past created by historians or archaeologists in their reconstructions. How do we understand SL then? Think of games: what do games teach best? Not what they are ostensbily about, but rather, how to play them. The rules of the game might correspond with various historical epistemologies (think Civilization franchise): the rules of the game make a kind of argument for how the world works: a procedural rhetoric (in Ian Bogost’s felicitous phrase).
  • What are the rules in SL, in this world where ‘anything’ is possible? The rules are best expressed through how SL allows objects and scripts to be built: so to understand the rules and their implications means casting the same kind of archaeological eye over this virtual material culture and landscapes as we would in the ‘real’ world.
  • therefore, if millions of people choose to spend their time and money in SL or other similar worlds, archaeology has a role in uncovering and studying the procedural rhetorics of this new frontier.

That’s strand one. Strand two:

  • traditional archaeological VR: clean, antiseptic, disembodied: you can only experience it by looking at the pretty pictures. In SL, since you are embodied in an avatar, you can explore the experience of the space; space-syntax in the real world explores how interconnected spaces give rise to certain kinds of experiences, so it should be possible to use SL to explore interconnected, re-created ancient spaces with space-syntax tools…. also, SL tends to clean up after itself (if you drop something, it gets returned to you) so in the presentation we take a  side trip to SL dumpster to explore how one artists’ collective uses SL to collect others’ trash to study the lives of residents.

Third strand: SL for teaching

  • if the argument about procedural rhetorics is correct, and that the only thing games teach you is how to play them, then I make that a virtue by translating archaeological metaphors into the basic building blocks of SL. Demonstration of the RWU virtual excavation prototype, integration with Nabonidus on-line recording system.

And so, without further ado, the video which should make much the same argument as above:

Archaeology in Second Life – WAC6

I was originally supposed to be going to Dublin for WAC, to give two papers. Unfortunately, life intervened and I’m not able to go. However, I will be giving one of those presentations anyway, via Second Life in the Art, Archaeology, and Technology: Current Experiments in Interpretation session.

Abstract for Electric Archaeology: Archaeology In, and Archaeology Of, ‘Second Life’

Archaeology is about material culture, about exploring the human condition (not necessarily in the past) through how we create and manipulate objects & landscapes. In recent years, the power of computing has opened up new universes for exploration, places where individuals create the worlds around them. This paper discusses my archaeological explorations in the current leading virtual world, ‘Second Life’. This world deserves archaeological study – perhaps even needs archaeological study – in that it is nothing but pure construction of will and imagination. ‘Virtual Worlds’ are in themselves nothing new: from the Haning Gardens of Babylon, to Hadrian’s Villa, to Disneyland in Florida, humans have been creating fantastical worlds for many different purposes, with simple entertainment not necessarily the prime motivation. Building on these observations, the paper discusses my own attempts to alter this world for archaeological outreach: a re-usable archaeological excavation.

It will be a live presentation from within Second Life, if all goes according to plan. If not, I’ve already recorded a video presentation to be given in case of emergency, and I’m just waiting for Youtube to do its magic. It turned out to be much more difficult to make this video than I anticipated.

Firstly, you need to do screen captures in Second Life. I followed the directions here to make that work.

Then, I downloaded Camtasia studio (trial version) to do the movie editing. I spent a fruitless day stitching together my stills and clips and then trying to match the audio to the video. I found it easier (relatively speaking), to do the audio first, and then the video.

I used audacity to record my stream-of-consciousness lecture, and then imported that. (Is there anything more cringe-inducing than listening to your own recorded voice? At least when I speak live, I can react to my audience; speaking to a recorder makes everything into a monotone…).

I will make the video public after the talk, which is on Monday, 11-ish am (an early start at 6am EST!). If you’re interested in being in SL while I do the talk, let me know and I’ll send you the coordinates. I want to use the voice-chat feature, but for some reason I can’t get the microphone to work right yet. If I don’t get that fixed, I’ll be doing a mean amount of typing…

My virtual excavation prototype is coming along nicely. It has several contexts/layers, salted with artefacts from around the archaeo-web-o-sphere.  I have a large media projector loaded with the Nabonidus webpage; when students touch that, it opens a browser window allowing them to log into Nabonidus and to do their recording. Picture below:

Virtual Excavation Site, RWU in SL

In my preparations for the talk, I’ve been visiting many different sims, and I came across an amazing temporary build, A Cruise on the Nile:

A Cruise On the Nile

It was part of a fund-raising effort for breast cancer research, in the ‘Duchy of Greystoke’.  Worth a visit if it’s still up.

Call for Papers: Chicago Digital Humanities

In my inbox this morning, a notice of what looks like a fantastic opportunity:

Call for Papers: 3rd Annual Chicago Digital Humanities/Computer Science Colloquium

DHCS Colloquium, November 1st – 3rd, 2008
Submission Deadline: August 31st, 2008

The goal of the annual Chicago Digital Humanities/Computer Science (DHCS) Colloquium is to bring together researchers and scholars in the Humanities and Computer Sciences to examine the current state of Digital Humanities as a field of intellectual inquiry and to identify and explore new directions and perspectives for future research. In 2006, the first DHCS Colloquium examined the challenges and opportunities posed by the “million books” digitization projects. The second DHCS Colloquium in 2007 focused on searching and querying as both tools and methodologies.

The theme of the third Chicago DHCS Colloquium is “Making Sense” – an exploration of how meaning is created and apprehended at the transition of the digital and the analog.

We encourage submissions from scholars and researchers on all topics that intersect current theory and practice in the Humanities and Computer Science.

Sponsored by the Humanities Division, the Computation Institute, NSIT Academic Technologies and the University Library at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and the College of Science and Letters at the Illinois Institute of Technology.